Put constitution first

EDITOR - Democracy's guiding principle is citizenship. This involves both the right to be treated by fellow human beings as an equal with respect to making of collective choices and the obligation of those implementing such choices to be equally accountable to all members of the polity. In words

of Professor Ali Mazrui, the most formative 12 years in Africa’s post colonial history were the years from 1954 to 1965, when the agenda for post-colonial Africa was set.

The independence victories came with vows that lives would indeed improve, promises that would be echoed in the coming decade as 33 other countries also became independent.

The independent countries were launched on the basis of British or French parliamentary systems, imposed from the above with the agreement of the new political elites.

These failed to deal satisfactorily with the political problems of ethnic and economic development. In many countries the ruling power bloc was identified with a dominant ethnic group, so that the attempt to build new national identities heightened rather than eliminated ethnic divisions or tensions and conflict, civil war and military coups became endemic and remained a constant threat in many countries.

In a human rights context, however, the 1950s marked the dawn of a new reality where the liberator would become the oppressor. In a vast majority of cases, human rights violators would not be held accountable for beatings, torture and killings they committed.

A continual lack of justice has allowed history to repeat itself again and again in dozens of countries.

We need to return to the basis of the constitution, whose function is to limit the arbitrariness that is inherent in the exercise of political power and not to facilitate the exercise of power by political elites.

Let’s seek to build on those rights and indeed those duties that derive from common humanity. Let’s strive to develop a dynamic, comprehensive and responsive conception of human rights – one enriched by the perceptions of different cultures and traditions.

TAMSANQA MLILO, African Judicial Network

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